Expectations met: How foreign tourists view Russian cities

19 December 2016 Joe Crescente, specially for RIR
A city’s reputation is often deserved, while at other times it is tarnished without good reason. RIR decided to look into this conundrum and spoke with five foreigners to gauge their expectations and the reality of their experience before and after their visit to some of Russia’s largest cities.

Moscow

Photo credit: Shutterstock/Legion-MediaSource: Shutterstock/Legion-Media

Aaron Kennet, U.S. Israel, 21, and soon-to-be English teacher in Vladimir, Russia:

Before
Before arriving in Moscow, I had always pictured it as a tortured version of New York City. I was thinking mindless businessmen sorting through their daily duties, irreverent politicians controlling the underground and hustlers crowding the streets.

After
I was immediately struck by the beauty surrounding me. Whether it was a statue of Yuri Gagarin, or the Chistiye Prudy station, there was always some beauty to appreciate. People were also fairly kind and helpful on the metro.

Novosibirsk

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-MediaSource: Lori/Legion-Media

Jerry Byers, 46, writer, analyst and Director of New Directions Study Abroad, U.S.:

Before
I travelled to Siberia by train in January. I had heard so much about Novosibirsk and decided to check it out.  I was told to expect a fairly boring, very Soviet city with unfriendly locals and extreme cold.

After
True to their word, the city was very cold, but I found the people and the city charming. I checked out the beautiful cathedral, train museum and a small art museum. The best part was the Ice City built on the shore of the Ob River, that featured several huge ice slides. Nothing better than grown men racing down ice slides with Russian children in ridiculous cold.  

Nizhny Novgorod

Photo credit: TASS/Vladimir SmirnovSource: TASS/Vladimir Smirnov

Jerke Verschoor, 37, Director Nuffic Neso Russia, the Netherlands Education Support Office, The Netherlands:

Before
I had read that Nizhny Novgorod used to be known as Gorky during Soviet times and that it was a closed city. Other than that I didn’t know much except that it was on the Volga River and had a beautiful Kremlin.

After
I was impressed – partly because of the pleasant weather – by the old part of the city, but it was extremely clear that some beautiful old wooden houses were in desperate need of renovation. But the people were very nice, which is most important!

Vladivostok

Photo credit: TASS/Yury SmityukSource: TASS/Yury Smityuk

Jonathan Blaisdell, 26, Eurasia Analyst, U.S.:

Before
Before leaving for Vladivostok, my knowledge of the city was limited to an obscure reference in Grand Theft Auto IV.

After

Vladivostok isn't just some forgotten outpost filled with Slavic hillbillies. It's also a fascinating crossroads of Asian cultures. Where else can you eat at a North Korean restaurant, swig saké while camping out on a Soviet C-56 submarine or take in breathtaking city views while straddling an anti-aircraft gun at an old fortress? Vlad has it all! https://ssl.gstatic.com/ui/v1/icons/mail/images/cleardot.gif

Saint Petersburg

Photo credit: Lori/Legion-MediaSource: Lori/Legion-Media

Randianne Leyshon, 29, journalist and higher education administrator at Johns Hopkins University, U.S.:

Before

The volunteer organization I was spending a summer with cancelled my original destination, so off to the land of the midnight sun and Cyrillic alphabet I went, knowing nothing about either.

After

St. Petersburg so enticed me that I ended up spending the rest of my teenage summers working in and around that city. Literary nooks and architectural crannies fuelled my obsession with Piter. The ‘window to the west’, as St. Petersburg is known, was the window to the rest of my life.

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